The Dry – Jane Harper

This is a fantastic novel by a debut author which keeps you enthralled right to the end. Set in the middle of an Australian drought the book is based around Aaron Falk’s return to his hometown for the funeral of his old teenage buddy, Luke Hadler, who is suspected of killing most of his family and then himself. Everyone is on edge due to the boiling heat which makes for a very tense background to the tale. On top of all this Falk is not exactly welcomed by the community as he was suspected of the murder of a teenage girlfriend of Hadler’s with Hadler as his only alibi, which most of the town had doubted and some actually knew to be false. As a consequence Falk and his father were run out of town so no one wanted, or even expected him to return even for his friend’s funeral.
From the start Falk, now a detective in Melbourne, has doubts about Hadler’s guilt and soon starts poking about trying to see if he can discover the real story behind the murders when he comes across the local cop, Raco, doing the same thing at Hadler’s property. Despite resentment from the community, which results in Falk’s car first being vandalised then being filled with manure, the pair continue to investigate the Hadler family deaths eventually reaching the truth.
I look forward to reading other books by this author of which there is a tantalising couple of chapters in the back of this one.

Original Sin – P D James

Once again I have gone back in time to one of the ‘cosy’ crime novels, in this instance, of P D James. The book tells the tale of Peverall Press an old publishing company which operates from Innocent House – a mock Venetian palazzo located on the banks of the River Thames. The details of life near the river add an air of mystery and intrigue to the fabulous descriptions that we are so used to from this author. The story starts with a suicide on the premises of an employee who has had her contract terminated by the new CEO, Gerard Etienne. Etienne wants to make changes to bring the firm up to date including the sale of the luxurious premises which has been owned by the Peverall family since the founding of the company. As if a body in the archive room isn’t enough the firm has been plagued with a series of pranks such as documents essential for a publication going missing then returned much too late to be of any help. These episodes reach a climax when Etienne is murdered and a snake draught excluder is stuffed in his mouth! The book is rather lengthy but still manages to be a page turner in true James’ style as the characters are well described so come to life as you read. Of course there is the wonderfully subdued detective, Adam Dalgleish, along with his sidekicks Kate Miskin and Daniel Aaron. Sadly Daniel comes into his own in a rather disastrous way during the dramatic ending which brings everything together finally revealing the killer’s motive.

IN SERVITUDE – HELEEN KIST

This was an enjoyable read – well thought out with lots of unexpected twists and turns. It dealt with the death of the main character’s sister who turned out to be living a completely different life on the edge of organised crime which her family knew nothing about. The heroine, who for once was not a detective,  had to deal with blows coming from all sides some of which from the most unexpected places.  A gripping, unputdownable tale of a woman who manages to step up to the plate no matter what is thrown at her to come down on the side of good over evil! 

A Daughter of Kairouan – Hafida Latta

I was very fortunate in meeting the author at a meeting of HighlandLIT in Inverness where I bought the book and Hafida signed it for me. She had an enchanting personality and her talk gave a fascinating insight into her life and the book. It tells of her early life in Tunisia where she was made the ‘man’ of the family after her Father passed away when she was only a little more than three years old. This made Hafida responsible for doing the shopping and any other chore that meant a trip out of the house as, at that time, women were not allowed out on the streets of Kairouan. Her Mother ran a sewing and rug making business but her female clients had to come over the roofs of the city in order to get to the house. Luckily for Hafida Tunisia became independent when she reached the age of eleven when, under French rule, she would have had to take the veil and probably had a marriage arranged! Thus Hafida was emancipated and continued her education even winning a scholarship to university which enabled her to work in diplomatic services until she met and fell in love with her now husband. Hafida blossomed and had many adventures while she undertook charitable works for the benefit of others less fortunate than herself. She worked tirelessly for women’s rights and peaceful relations between nations making for an extremely interesting and thought provoking read.

The Babes in the Wood – Ruth Rendell

Sometimes I like to venture back in time to the ‘cosy’ crime novels of Ruth Rendell and others of her ilk. This novel is number nineteen in the Chief Inspector Wexford series which were written from 1964 to 2011! They can almost all be read as a stand alone except for a Sight for Sore Eyes, which doesn’t feature Wexford, and it’s follow up The Vault which does. The Babes in the Wood features the mystery of three people, two teenagers and their ‘babysitter’, who go missing with no apparent reason during a rare weekend when their parents are away. Of course a body is found but that is only the start of it all! The characters are, as always, brilliantly formed and could easily appear in a tale by Dickens himself. The mother of the two teenagers is a shrivelling but hysterical woman who believes her offspring have drowned in the floods that follow the torrential rain that has battered Suffolk for weeks. She is clearly very much under the influence of a husband whose attitude towards his missing children verges on nonchalance and clearly objects to any questioning by the police as they try to investigate what has happened. The parents of the ‘babysitter’ are another oddly matched couple in that the father constantly descends into a diatribe of great length on any given subject while his wife, who is much younger, is very matter of fact and gets straight to the answer of any question fired at her during the investigation. This brings great relief to Wexford and his sidekick, Vine, who are often left wondering how on earth they are going to shut the man up and actually get the result they need. The story involves another odd couple who live in a large country house in it’s intriguing twists and turns before the reader learns what actually occurred during the fateful weekend. These events are narrated by Wexford in the last chapter in a style rather akin to Christie’s Poirot which was the only part of the book that I found rather disappointing. It seemed as if we had missed out on a lot of the facts that only Wexford himself was aware of in order to bring the investigation to it’s conclusion. However, don’t let this small criticism deter you from reading the book as it is a fascinating tale in true Rendell style that I found hard to put down!

THE DAMAGE DONE – JAMES OSWALD

I really enjoyed this book which I was given to review for an award a couple of years ago. It’s an intriguing tale with no clue as to the sci-fi twist, which I really liked, until the very end. The central character DI Maclean was very well defined with a lot of background information about his life away from being a detective whilst still giving a great insight into his life in the force. I would certainly choose to read others in this writers series as I would like to know about some of the background facts mentioned. I guessed who the criminal lawyer was, but, I think that was a bit of dramatic irony as we were told the story of the child rescued from being a sex slave by the main character when he was a young constable. The book was a real page turner which I finished in two sessions instead of my usual three or four!

SINS OF THE DEAD – LIN ANDERSON

This is a great story featuring Harley-Davidsons with their riders, Glasgow and the Highlands, racing bikes in tunnels and, of course, a few murders! The book is the latest in the series about the forensic scientist Rhona Macleod and, although it can be helpful to read the series in order, each book can easily be read as a stand alone. The tension between Rhona and the demoted DS McNab is palpable which gives an interesting dimension to the tale as does the tangled love lives of some of the other characters. The murderer, who leaves a signature of wine and bread with his victims following in the old tradition of a ‘sin eater’, is also targeting Rhona herself. This makes for a gripping tale with many twists, turns and heart stopping moments which keeps the reader enthralled right to the thrilling end!